The Shadow Cipher by Laura Ruby is the first book in the York series, a juvenile fiction, historical re-imagining, series for 4-7 graders.
In 1855, the Morningstarr Twins, the greatest and most mysterious architects New York City has ever seen, go missing and in their place, a cryptic puzzle promising to lead to a treasure greater than can be imagined. But decades later the puzzle still hasn’t been solved.
In the present day, twins Theo and Tess, along with their friend Jamie are determined to solve the puzzle and save their home, one of the original Morningstarr buildings, from being torn down by rich developers.
Most people have given up on the puzzle and don’t even think it ever ends but Tess, Theo and Jamie believe that the puzzle is just waiting for the “right” people and time to be solved.
Will they solve the cipher before it is too late?
1. What is this story about? What are the main themes?
2. What is an alternative history? What are some examples of this in the book?
3. Tess, Theo, Jamie and the rest of the residents of 354 W. 73rd Street are about to lose their home. If you were in their shoes how would this make you feel?
4. Explain why Tess says their effort to solve the Cipher seems “adorable,” as though it were more than a coincidence.
5. In this version of the world, people have hybrid animal pets. What type of hybrid pet would you want to have?
6. Chapter 11 – “People like to fool themselves into thinking that they could never be fooled.” In chapter 11, Tess and her dad have a discussion about a “black box.” What is this and would you open the black box?
7. Chapter 21 – Jamie wonders if maybe the Morningstarr creations are actually alive. What did you think of this?
8. Does the design of a machine influence how well it is accepted? Why do people sometimes have trouble accepting scientific advances? Advances in engineering?
9. Slant says, “the solution is not in the streets or the buildings of this city, but in us, in its people. We are the magic. We are the treasure.” By the end Tess wonders if Slant is just a little bit right by saying that “we are the treasure,” What do you think is meant by this?
10. At the end of the book, is seems as though a battle has just begun. What war is coming?
STEM Challenge: Decode the secret message
STEM Supplies Needed: Pencil & Paper
A PigPen cipher is a geometric simple substitution cipher, which exchanges letters for symbols which are fragments of a grid. For example “C” would look like an uppercase L , and “L” would look like an uppercase L with a dot in the lower left hand corner.
First, I explained to the kids how this cipher works. Then I pinned the cipher and our first challenge, saying “using the above cipher, let’s see who can decode our secret message first.” I moved on to each cipher, making them a little longer each time.
How’d it go:
Meh, this was not our favorite book or our favorite activity. But the kids got through it and are excited to here that next week we are back to our messy STEM activities!
That’s all for now!